No money for power line

City council shot down two proposals to help pay to move the Big Lake power line Monday, suggesting the province and AltaLink foot the bill instead.

A 138-kilovolt AltaLink transmission line near the lake has been criticized for killing birds and disrupting views in Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park. AltaLink, the provincial parks department, environmentalists and the Hole family have all called for the line to be moved or buried.

In late 2006, AltaLink, later joined by the province, proposed to split the cost of moving the power line with the city. The province has given the city $300,000 to move the line, while AltaLink has pledged $450,000.

Council did not move to accept a recommendation from administration to consider putting $450,000 towards moving the line during its 2009 budget deliberations. It also voted 5-2 against a motion from Coun. Carol Watamaniuk to perform the move immediately using $350,000 from the city’s stabilization fund.

Council then voted 4-3 in favour of a motion from Coun. James Burrows to ask the province and AltaLink to pay the full cost of burying the line, estimated at between $6 million and $8 million.

Cases presented

The line in question crosses the Sturgeon River and Big Lake near the Big Lake Environment Support Society (BLESS) viewing platform. AltaLink studies have identified this as a high-risk area for bird collisions (no precise collision counts are available) and suggest that moving it about 500 metres away would greatly reduce bird deaths and visual effects.

Environmental co-ordinator Leah Jackson presented six options to council. Option one, doing nothing, might not address the line’s problems. AltaLink was not likely to support option two, where it would pay $450,000 to move the line 350 metres east. Option four would shove the line 1,000 metres east to follow Riel Drive, but would be close to a high-pressure gas line, run through the famous white spruce forest and cost $2.75 million.

Burying the line (option five) would cost about $6.3 million and involve digging a large trench through wetlands to lay the necessary pipeline. Option six (a theoretical proposal where the line would be built into an on-ground walkway) would have similar issues and cost $8.5 million.

Administration, backed by the Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC), recommended option three, which would route the line along the east edge of Ray Gibbon Drive right-of-way at a cost of $1.05 million, about $450,000 of which would come from the city. This money would come from the city’s stabilization fund, which now has $1,724,008.

“This is a unique opportunity,” Jackson said, as it would be the first time a power line company would agree to move a line purely for social and environmental reasons. Other speakers said the move could improve eco-tourist opportunities at Lois Hole Park, adding that any delay in the move would add to its cost.

Proposal rejected

Watamaniuk, attending the meeting by phone, moved that council immediately commit $350,000 to shift the line to follow Ray Gibbon Dr. It would be a slap in the face to the other partners if St. Albert didn’t chip in, she said, and would not respect a motion passed by the previous council to commit $350,000 to a line move in the 2008 budget, which the current council did not do. “I think we have to come up with our share.”

This line move was about more than just birds or aesthetics, she said. “It is about respecting and honouring the most beloved friend our community has ever had and that’s Lois Hole.”

Mayor Nolan Crouse opposed the motion.

“There are a lot of risks and unknowns associated with this relocation,” he said, noting administration had yet to determine its effect on a nearby sports field. The city would also have to raise taxes by 0.75 per cent to top up its stabilization fund after the move.

“We’re faced with making some tough decisions in the next few weeks and I’m not prepared to fund in this matter.”

Council defeated the motion 5-2, with Watamaniuk and Lorie Garritty supporting it.

Burrows moved to have administration ask the province and AltaLink to pay the full cost of burying the line. “What a great gift it would be for the Alberta government to pay for the entire cost,” he said.

Garritty opposed the motion.

“We’re dreaming in Technicolor if we think the government is going to come forward with $6.5 million or more.”

Burrows’ motion passed 4-3, with Crouse, Garritty and Len Bracko opposed.

Disappointment

Elke Blodgett, who has lobbied for the line to be moved for years, said she was ashamed of council’s decision. “This is [council] wriggling our way out of honouring the wishes of the previous council any way it can.”

Bill Hole, who was in the gallery during the meeting, could not be reached for comment.

Jason Cooke, chair of the EAC, said he was disappointed by council’s decision. “Extremely complex problems rarely have perfect solutions,” he said, and the Ray Gibbon route was seen as a good compromise. The group had also advised the city to contribute to the partnership offered by the province and AltaLink. “It appears that for the time being council has decided their contribution will be zero.”

Cooke said he hoped this wasn’t the end of the line for the move effort. “We do consider the status quo to be unacceptable and at present we are left with the status quo.”

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Elke Blodgett